People living in Swan Hills are worried about what will happen to them in a medical emergency, now that the town's only doctor is on vacation for six weeks.
"This is an oilfield town," said resident Jarvis Kilpatrick. "It's dangerous. And having a doctor in town is mighty helpful for anything that happens in the field."
Kilpatrick, part owner of an oilfield servicing company who has lived in the northwest Alberta town for 24 years, says getting consistent health care in this town of just under 1,500 people is an ongoing challenge.
Alberta Health Services said it was made aware some time ago that the town's doctor is on his honeymoon and will not return until August 12th.
The province took out ads in the local paper to warn residents and worked with local officials to ensure residents have access to a doctor, said spokesperson Kerry Williamson.
AHS set up a telehealth system linking patients at Swan Hills Healthcare Centre with five doctors in Edmonton through video conferencing.
The emergency department at the health centre is also staffed by nurses and paramedics and a doctor in Whitecourt, about 45 minutes away, is also providing some on-site care for residents, he said.Williamson called the situation an excellent example of telehealth in action, a good example of the province planning for consistent health care in a difficult region. But some residents don't believe the plan is good enough. "If there is an industrial accident this is unacceptable," said Joan Kuntz. "If a person experiences a life threatening injury it is unacceptable."
Kilpatrick said he used the video-conference system last week when he came down with strep throat and was unimpressed with the process.
"I did the doctor camera thing," he said. "Basically I diagnosed myself and he gave me a prescription. It was pretty impersonal."
Speaking with a doctor over a computer is no substitute for having one on hand in an emergency, he said.
"I'm sure not having a doctor here, there's a possibility of loss of life," Kilpatrick said. "We've had some emergencies here where a doctor has saved people's lives."